The new year is here, and gaming is looking to be a great one. With plenty of titles delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the triple-A scene will be massive over the upcoming 12 months. Whether it be the eventual release of Halo Infinite, the next instalments for classic franchises such as Resident Evil Village or Psychonauts 2, or new IPs to get excited about like The Medium or 12 Minutes, there’s plenty for people to get excited for. However, in both the triple-A and indie scene, there are plenty of overlooked titles that could prove to be the year’s best and will be well worth your time. Here’s a few that could prove to be sleeper hits.
To start the list is one of my personal most anticipated games of 2021. Developed by Dreams Uncorporated of Colombia, Cris Tales sees players taking on the role of an orphan known as Crisbell in an RPG. Alongside some of the traditional mechanics of the genre in the form of turn-based combat and fantastical kingdoms to explore, Cris Tales has a few other unique aspects going for it.
The biggest aspect that leaps out is how the screen is split into three sections, displaying the past, present and future of where Crisbell is all simultaneously. As well as jumping between the distinct points in time to solve puzzles and quests, Cris Tales also makes use of this in battles. Invoking crystals in battle can change enemies by placing them in a different point of time, affecting their attacks and their physical appearances.
Aided by an angular but vibrant art style, Cris Tales arrives on all platforms in early 2021 following a delay from last year. For fans of fantastical JRPGs and indies with twists on classic tropes, keep your eyes on this one.
Speaking of turn-based combat, it’s a feature of this next title from Cococucumber – Echo Generation.
Made up of a voxel-art style and heavily influenced by the Canadian studio’s homeland, the studio has developed an adventure about kids in 1993 investigating a mysterious crash and battling the resulting monstrosities.
That description may have you thinking about a certain Netflix show about teenagers battling monsters in a small town. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Numerous outlets have compared the game to Stranger Things, given the game’s setting, story and colour palette. However, the turn-based combat approach and 90s aesthetic does provide plenty of opportunity to offer a tranquil approach to a classic tale.
The game itself will be available on the Xbox Series X with “up to 4k resolution at 60fps”. Add to this the studio’s pedigree in the voxel genre with dungeon crawler Riverbond, and there is plenty of potential with their latest project to be a wonderfully vibrant adventure and another excellent demonstration for indies on the new consoles.
Hopefully we get a full release date beyond 2021 soon.
Arguably the game we’ve seen the least on this list, ExoMecha by TwistedRed is a free-to-play FPS that seems like a game built off the christmas list of a 10-year-old. In the shooter, you’ll be battling mechs wielding blades, fighting against dragon mechs, all whilst commandeering helicopters and tanks on exotic islands.
There are numerous modes supposedly on offer when the game eventually becomes available, including large team-based battles and objective modes as well as a battle royale game mode. Of course, the presence of that does make you wonder how much ExoMecha will stand out in a fundamentally packed genre with plenty of studios looking for players. However, with the large-scale madness and completely bonkers approach to its gameplay that we have seen, that shouldn’t be as much of a problem.
The question also remains of how viable the game will also be beyond its 2021 release. For all free-to-play titles, the biggest challenge is maintaining a player-base over a long period of time, which has been crucial to the success of titles like Fortnite, Rainbow Six Siege and Apex Legends. But given the sights we have seen, the long term success is available for TwistedRed.
This is probably the most widely known of the titles on this list, but it still feels like a bit of a hidden gem. Scarlet Nexus is brought to us from the same team behind Tales of Vesperia as players fight a myriad of enemies known as “the others”, with superpowers gained through joining with some red strings… or something.
There’s plenty on offer here, with a choice of two unique male and female protagonists, numerous other characters to encounter, an immensely detailed modern urban setting and plenty of high intensity combat taking cues from the Devil May Cry franchise, with cinematic finishers to boot. As alluded to earlier, the story is based around the concept of the red strings network which grants characters the powers to fend off the threats to their world. Whilst at first glance it seems odd, this is a story which could prove to take some strange concepts and ultimately tie them together with string to make them work.
A new IP from Bandai Namco is always exciting and is currently set for a Q2/Q3 2021 release. Given how strong it has looked in its marketing and the pedigree of the people behind it, don’t be surprised if this ends up as one of the best releases of 2021.
The Artful Escape
To conclude, a platformer that we have been waiting for forever.
The Artful Escape and its protagonist Johnny Vendetti first emerged on a large platform during Microsoft’s E3 2017 conference. Since, big updates from the game being published have been few and far between, with the last one being a delay to this year announced by publisher Annapurna Interactive.
This is a shame because everything we’ve seen of the radiant musical platformer has looked gorgeous and completely distinctive. The Artful Escape has been bursting with an unmatchable visual and auditory identity in its marketing, and its gameplay looks to harness the intrinsic qualities of platformers with its musical twist of the world changing via the notes on Vendetti’s guitar. Add to this the factor that Annapurna Interactive has established itself as one of the finest publishers in gaming through a catalogue of quirky and critically acclaimed titles including Sayonara Wild Hearts, Outer Wilds and so many more.
All these factors point to The Artful Escape being one of the most unique platformers around in a genre that has undergone a truly great resurgence in the last 5-10 years. Hopefully we can get our hands on this sooner rather than later in 2021.
But there we are with our most anticipated, oft overlooked titles of the year ahead. What are you looking forward to playing in 2021? Is there anything coming in under the radar that you’re excited for in the coming year? Let us know in the comments below.